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Ana Castillo
The author of So Far From God  in an interview with Simon Romero

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Power of Prose Index

Power of Prose

The American Southwest

American literature is unique in the number of voices and cultures it conveys, giving it the power to transform opinions and challenge stereotypes in both obvious and subtle ways.  Christa Smith Anderson explains that in the Southwest, the cadence of Native American language blends with Mexican-American dialect.

Poet Carol Lee Sanchez, born in New Mexico of Laguna Pueblo, Sioux, and Lebanese-American heritage, writes in English, Spanish and Laguna. Her poem Prologue includes all three languages. The poem interweaves descriptions of clothing and fabric with stanzas of dialogue. Two men from Cubero, N.M., along with a couple of American-Indian men, talk as they load a truck with wool for shipment to the East Coast: “‘Bueno amigo… the Patron says / to tell you we weigh it mañana [tomorrow]… about 10 o’clock.’ / ‘Sta Bienamigo… we be there. / 10 o’clock.’”

Conversation follows the revelation that the wool in one Cubero shipment would be enough to provide a local family with food and clothing for a year.

Ga-wa-sti...’

Dow-wah-eh...’

'Is that you? ... my goodness...

you're such a big girl now...

how’s your mama?... we haven’t seen her in a long time...[1]

The final stanza of the poem, also in dialogue, reveals that the conversation is between the narrator and an aunt, who encourages her niece to learn the Native-American language of her family:

‘How much... Hah-stu-nah-stah?

don't you understand Laguna?’

‘No... Aunt Marie... only a few words...’

‘Shame on you... you should get

your grandma to teach you...’

‘I will Aunt Marie... it’s good

to see you...’

Shro-oh...’

Ha-ah...’

‘Well... we must go now... tell your

folks hello for us... you come to

Paguate sometimes and visit us...’[2]

Vietnam is the setting of Ana Castillo’s On Francisco el Penitente’s First Becoming a Santero and Thereby Sealing His Fate. In this story, men of different backgrounds make up the platoon of Francisco el Penitente, who is from the Southwest: “To his six other brothers and his father he was el Franky. To his Mexican Godmother, la Doña Felicia, however, he was Panchito and sometimes Paquito, and as he grew up, her Paco. But to his buddies in Nam he was Chico.”

Francisco doesn’t appreciate being called Chico any “more than the Navajo that was in his platoon went for the nickname ‘Chief,’ nor did the Puerto Rican from Rio Piedras... like to be called Little Chico.” Francisco, unlike those calling him Chico, knows the translation of the word, which back home in Nuevo Méjico “meant a roasted corn. Or just a hard kernel.[3]

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • Carol Lee Sanchez, Learn more about this New Mexico author.
  • Ana Castillo, This author is considered to be one of the leading voices to emerge from the Chicana experience.
  • Bruchac, Joseph, ed. Songs from This Earth on Turtle’s Back: Contemporary American Indian Poetry. Greenfield Center, N.Y.: The Greenfield Review Press, 1983.
  • Green, Rayna, ed. That’s What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women. Bloomington, In.: Indiana University Press, 1984
  • Momaday, N. Scott. The Names: A Memoir. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1976.
  • Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Iguana Dreams: New Latino Fiction. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon. Almanac of the Dead. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Back to Essay

Christa Smith Anderson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University and received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. After several years producing and writing television news, she is now a federal government employee by day and a fiction writer the rest of the time. She received the 2002 Cynthia Wynn Herman Scholarship from George Mason University and has published non-fiction in So to Speak, a Feminist Journal of Language and Arts.

Back to Top

  1. Sanchez, Carol Lee. "Prologue." That's What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women. Ed. Rayna Green. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,1984. 223.
  2. Sanchez, p.224
  3. Castillo, Ana. "On Francisco el Penitente's First Becoming a Santero and Thereby Sealing His Fate." Iguana Dreams: New Latino Fiction, Ed. Delia Poey and Virgil Suarez. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. 35.

Sponsored by:

National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation

Ford
Foundation

Rosalind P.
Walter

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Carnegie
Corporation of New York